New Washington law gives police more authority to kick out squatters

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — A new law signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday gives law enforcement the authority to remove squatters from a property, after the owner has filed a declaration.

The law goes into effect on July 21.

The law provides more teeth in a situation long bemoaned by property owners, unable to get help from local police. The current procedure to remove squatters is akin to removing a tenant, in that homeowners would need to go through the court system for a proper eviction. That process can take weeks or months.

“They locked the doors and they had the keys, and we weren’t allowed to do anything except take them to civil court,” said Rose Nelson, a Pierce County homeowner.

She and her husband had rented out a property near Tacoma to a woman they had to evict. Instead of turning her keys over to the Nelsons, they said she gave them to an alleged drug dealer.

While their tenant was gone, strangers had taken over the place.

Nelson described problems they created in the neighborhood: “stolen cars, garages being broken into, there was a lot of crime. The Sheriff’s Office has over 100 calls logged in their books.”

She said the squatters left feces on the carpet, next to food, next to drug paraphernalia.

Even so, the Nelsons were told there wasn’t much deputies could do, especially because these people had established residency in the home.

“I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I’m like, ‘what?’ I couldn’t comprehend this. I mean, we don’t know these people. They took over our house. They have no rights to be here,” Nelson said.

She and her husband called local representatives, including state Sen. Hans Zeiger (R – Puyallup).

“Property rights mean something in our free society. And so, running this bill was about upholding those property rights,” Zeiger said.

Zeiger worked with other lawmakers to create a bill that would address the squatter problem, without touching landlord-tenant law.

The declaration a property owner would need to file under the new law, would only be used against people who have no record of tenancy at that location within the past year.

In the Nelsons’ case, they were lucky in that neighbors banded together. They shined bright lights into the house at all hours, photographed the squatters, and followed them around, until the squatters gave up and left.

Nelson is glad future property owners won’t have to go through that trouble.